Friday, June 13, 2014

5 Keys to Understanding Mormon Revelation

In light of recent possible excommunications of activists within the Mormon faith I wanted to shed a broader perspective and historical context around the dynamics which surround these aspects of Mormonism. I know this is a very emotionally sensitive topic. So please don't take my writing this as an attempt to belittle or ignore any pain or confusion people might be feeling (esp. those individuals and families directly affected by excommunication). First off I do want to empathize even just a bit. I have relatives who have dealt with disfellowship in their life. It's a deeply, deeply, personal thing and I will not pretend to know what is ultimately between individuals, their local priesthood leadership, and the Lord. I also want to state that I am not an authority in the church. So I won't be speaking specifically towards either individual's case but instead towards broader principles.

What pains me is to see people hinge their testimony of God or the restoration of the gospel on these current matters. Mormons are called to stay in the household of faith because we have faith in God, in the restoration, the word of God manifest in scripture, and modern revelation. While current policies around social issues may give us pause, they do not determine the veracity and power of those things. We need to evaluate each on their own terms.

My personal opinion here is that recent disciplinary actions from the LDS church has more to do with addressing the methods used to promote change rather than just the opinions themselves. I don't interpret this as some change in policy about the topics themselves but instead a strong re-iteration and emphasis on the pattern of revelation the LDS faith has. Overall, I'm saddened by any loss of faith. But I also see the reasoning for these types of actions by church officials and wish to provide what insights I personally have.

I want to offer 5 keys to understanding Mormon revelation to consider in navigating the Mormon faith in the context of recent events.

1. Revelation is a process

I like this quote from President Lorenzo Snow (back in 1900):
Lorenzo Snow
Seventy years ago this Church was organized with six members. We commenced, so to speak, as an infant. We had our prejudices to combat. Our ignorance troubled us in regard to what the Lord intended to do and what He wanted us to do. We advanced to boyhood, and still we undoubtedly made some mistakes, which generally arise from a lack of experience. We understand very well, when we reflect back upon our own lives, that we did many foolish things when we were boys. Yet as we advanced, the experience of the past materially assisted us to avoid such mistakes as we had made in our boyhood.

It has been so with the Church. Our errors have generally arisen from a lack of comprehending what the Lord required of us to do. But now we are pretty well along to manhood. When we examine ourselves, however, we discover that we are still not doing exactly as we ought to do, notwithstanding all our experience. We discern that there are things which we fail to do that the Lord expects us to perform, some of which He requires us to do in our boyhood. While we congratulate ourselves in this direction, we certainly ought to feel that we have not yet arrived at perfection. There are many things for us to do yet.

Source: President Lorenzo Snow 6 April, 1900, CR

In Mormonism, revelation and church authority are not infallible. There's a saying I heard once that in Catholicism the Pope is infallible but nobody believes it and in Mormonism the prophet is fallible but nobody believes it.

Revelation in Mormonism is not a way for God to give immovable edicts. It is a process through which God inspires prophets called to lead His church. It moves from principle to principle, truth to truth, "until the perfect day" (D&C 50:24).

2. The pattern of revelation

Five months after the organization of the church that Lorenzo Snow was referring to, a crisis arose in the church. Hiram Page had claimed to have received revelations regarding how to build up Zion which several other church members had accepted as revelation from God (including Oliver Cowdery - the "Second Elder" of the church).

Prior to a conference, Joseph Smith received this revelation which laid out the pattern of revelation the Lord wished to have in this dispensation (echoing patterns from other dispensations):

1 Behold, I say unto thee, Oliver, that it shall be given unto thee that thou shalt be heard by the church in all things whatsoever thou shalt teach them by the Comforter, concerning the revelations and commandments which I have given.
2 But, behold, verily, verily, I say unto thee, no one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., for he receiveth them even as Moses.
3 And thou shalt be obedient unto the things which I shall give unto him, even as Aaron, to declare faithfully the commandments and the revelations, with power and authority unto the church.
4 And if thou art led at any time by the Comforter to speak or teach, or at all times by the way of commandment unto the church, thou mayest do it.
5 But thou shalt not write by way of commandment, but by wisdom;
6 And thou shalt not command him who is at thy head, and at the head of the church;
7 For I have given him the keys of the mysteries, and the revelations which are sealed, until I shall appoint unto them another in his stead.

D&C 28:1-7

Now, we can take this form of authoritarianism too far. But what the Lord clearly is calling for here is order in how His word is revealed and accepted institutionally in the church. It's a spectrum where we have authority squelching diversity and free expression on one end and on the other disorder and the conflict of interpretation against which Mormonism itself arose. Both are extremes which don't have a place in Mormonism. I think what we're seeing in light of these disciplinary actions is a navigation along that spectrum; and we need to understand the larger picture here.

My personal opinion is that what's at issue here isn't women ordination, gay rights/fellowship, or whether doubters are welcome. What's at issue is the Lord's established pattern of revelation and authority. Nearly 40 years ago, excommunication with regards to race and the priesthood occurred as close as several months before that policy change in 1978. Clearly those weren't about the issue itself which was already in the process of changing; they were about those who would steady the ark -- those who insist on a mode outside this established pattern. That's the issue being addressed here in my opinion. Not whether certain policies are "true" or whether the church is "with the times". I personally feel there can be a future for a greater & more full role for women, greater fellowship for gays, and more understanding for doubters. But I want any required institutional policy change or additional doctrine related to this to come from the Lord, not from those who mistake activism for the priesthood of God.

And when the direction that has come is, "No." or "Not now." We need to trust in modern revelation and not steady the ark.

3. We are entitled to personal revelation, but under "strict command"

To balance this out, we need to understand that in Mormonism we are promised the ability to receive personal revelation with regards to the mysteries of God (even beyond the words revealed by prophets). This is a huge part of my faith & testimony in the restored gospel. I won't be part of a faith that does not allow one to form their own opinions by faith and study. But that does not mean we have a free-for-all bazaar of confusion and contention. The Lord has called for a "house of order" (D&C 132:8). Remember, an environment of confusion and contention is exactly against which the restoration emerged.

This is explained in Alma 12:9-11 when the prophet Alma was contending with Zeezrom:

9 And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.
10 And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.
11 And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell.

God wants us to learn the mysteries of the kingdom and form our own opinions, but God is not an anarchist. He, an eternal Being who has seen countless worlds come and go, sees the need for order. So we should go learn all we can "by study and also by faith". But when we feel the need to command or impel others because of something we feel strongly about beyond the revealed word, then we are breaking the "strict command" by which we received that knowledge in the first place and step into the realm of unrighteous dominion and apostasy.

A key here in navigating this dynamic in the household of faith is that if someone comes to you insisting church members hold an opinion that can't firmly be grounded in the words revealed by prophets who have the "keys of the mysteries" for the church then you can know either 1) they are breaking that "strict command" from Alma 12:9 and/or 2) they are seeking to "command him who is at [the] head" -- independent of the veracity of their statement. It's a balance. Freedom on one hand, responsibility on the other.

The language in one of letters sent to the NY Times from the activists which they received from the LDS church seems to align with this doctrinal/policy approach:

The letter said, “you are not required to change your thinking or the questions you may have in your own mind,” but that she must keep her questions private and resolve them by talking to her bishop.

This is a exhortation to adhere to this pattern of revelation. The chastisement isn't for having an opinion. It's for promoting that opinion outside the Lord's pattern of revelation.

4. We need to have empathy towards the Lord's anointed

If find it very telling of God's desires for us that he places us in this situation where we each have our own passions/opinions/insights/knowledge/testimony but must come together in unity in order to grow. Surely he didn't do so that we would fight it out and resolve matters through protest, activism, or PR campaigns. Instead He requires faith, hope, forgiveness/repentance, and charity. Only through those can a true diversity of opinion, doctrine, and faith be maintained with (rather than against) living prophets.

Mormonism promotes a diversity of opinions balanced with unity in faith.

I think much of this can be expressed in the dynamics of kites. Interestingly, kites work because of
opposing forces: lift and an anchor line. The wings, streamers, dowels, and wind provide the lift. But without the line to the ground that anchors it, the kite will quickly spiral down to the ground.

In the pattern of revelation above, Mormonism provides both sets of tools (lift and anchoring). We just have to understand and use both in the right balance. We get our lift through personal revelation and study, but that lift must be balanced and cannot overrun the anchoring to the ground found in prophetic revelation. The two dynamics work together to produce the desired effect and joy of the kite's flying.

Placing myself in the shoes of living prophets for a moment I realize that they have a sacred responsibility to provide these lines and anchors and are held accountable to God for how they fulfill that responsibility. Different individuals will have different lift and security to the lines based on their own personal relationship with God, what winds they fly in, and how they've built their own kite. But when individuals come along and insist that the lift they attained must be given to all they risk many of the other kites.

Given that the living prophets are the ones in charge of the lines, if they do not feel inspired through revelation to change the lines, one option for someone seeking that other kites lift the way they are is to have the other kites fly in their stronger winds. But when that is done it places more strain on the line which the kites are secured to. This will happen from time to time and can be healthy. We all have our faith and testimonies tried and our lines can be strengthened by it. But what are those in charge of the lines and the safety of the kites to do when the winds begin to threaten the security of the lines to other kites? At a certain point, a decision to preserve the security of the lines must be made over other dynamics or individuals.

So when I see church institutional policies which give me pause or that might be labeled "behind the times", I choose to put myself in the shoes of God's prophets and it seems clear that they are worried about loosing the footing and anchor that's needed for members to soar in the unity of faith. It's up to us (as individuals) to soar -- that's our right, but we cannot endanger the lines and anchors of others in doing so. An understanding and application of this balance is part of the essence of practicing Mormonism.

Tying the metaphor back to the recent events, these disciplinary actions towards activists, I think, are about how those in the priesthood have a responsibility for the safety of all kites (not just a select few) and see individuals & trends which are trying to force lift on others which are straining and even severing the lines which anchor people to the gospel of Christ. Their responsibility is to ensure those lines and anchors (they are accountable to that). So at a certain point they are called to halt things that threaten the lines or anchors of others.

5. Guiding Principles

For me, daily personal practice of Mormonism boils down to these things:

  1. Covenants: These are the "commands" which we have received that anchor me to Christ. I stand by my covenants as my iron rod. These are my stronghold that I will not let go of and which I keep free of the "fluff" others would seek to attach to it. With covenants comes great strength.
  2. Learning: We, as Latter-day Saints, should be voracious learners. Especially in the miraculous age we live in where nearly all of mankind's information is literally at our fingertips. This will include individual 'mysteries' being revealed about God (through study/faith) and as well as the world around us through the miracles of science (through study/reason). We should discuss these, weigh them, refine them, and expound on them. But we cannot forget God's Kingdom and think that knowledge alone supplants the authority of God.
  3. Patience: I have to step back and realize that God has a plan for how/why He reveals mysteries to the church as a whole vs. how I feel He might reveal things to me. And to be patient both with the prophet when I feel differently about something but to also be patient with myself retaining humility in my opinions and beliefs always open to more information and God's revealed word.

There's a warning from the Book of Mormon that also touches on this dynamic. It contains an exhortation to gain personal knowledge and wisdom but also couples it with a warning to not let that draw one away from God and His counsels:

28 O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.
29 But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.
2 Nephi 9:28-29

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Choices, Consequences, and Powers Beyond Our Control.

Our speaker in church today was riveting. With his permission,  I'm going to share the main point of his talk on Choices.

Every summer for one week, Kyle's family would visit a resort on a huge lake in Canada. The resort had all kinds of boating equipment available for use, and the  kids took full advantage of the opportunity to get out onto the water.

One day, Kyle went with his eight year old brother, and his ten year old brother, and borrowed a large plastic kayak type of boat. Kyle was twelve. They took this boat out across the wide, deep lake, and found a spot to go explore on the opposite shore. Each end of the boat had a rope attached to it, and the boys used one of these ropes to secure the boat on the shoreline. They simply tied it to a decent sized rock to prevent it from floating away.

After playing on the shore, the boys climbed back in their boat and paddled out into the water. For some reason, they decided to keep the rock attached, and they dragged it out with them till it was suspended underwater beneath their boat.

Something about that arrangement tickled their imagination to no end, and they played with a rock on the end of a rope for a while, till it slipped out of the loop and sunk to the bottom. They looked at each other and reasoned "if a big rock at the end of a rope is big fun, a bigger rock would be bigger fun!"

So back to shore they went. This time they selected a very large rock that took quite a bit of effort to move around. They secured the rope around it and went back out into deeper water. After some fun and splashing, pulling the rope and imagining the rock dangling below them, the rock slipped out of its knots and disappeared.

Again, the boys considered. "If a big rock was big fun, and a huge rock was huge fun, an enormous rock would be enormous fun!"

Back to shore they went. This time the rock was almost too big for the three of them to move. It was more of a boulder than a rock. They secured the rope around it tightly, and after much heaving and pushing, loosened it from the surrounding dirt and, paddling mightily, slowly dragged it into deeper waters.

This time they were amazed to see the massive rock pulled the front end of the boat to just an inch or two above the water line. The ten year old sat near the front, while the eight year old was seated in the rear with a life jacket on. Kyle was in the middle.

As they approached the center of the lake, which was tremendously deep, Kyle decided to use the rope on the rear of the boat to keep his youngest brother safe. He tied it tightly to his brother's life jacket.

At one point, though, the ten year old stood up to move around for some reason. His motion disturbed the balance enough that the front end dipped forward just a bit, and the back end lifted up just a bit.

That change in surface area and displacement was all it took for disaster to strike. The boat, pulled by the incredible weight of the boulder below, instantly flipped into a vertical position. Kyle was launched into the air. In one of those terrifying slow-motion-replay moments of life, he was able to see the boat disappear below the surface lighting fast, pulling his brother down after.

At this point in the story, the speaker paused to share some scriptures. He must have been a TV producer or something. Luckily, I'll not take any longer than this sentence to return to the story.

Kyle swam back to the spot where he last saw his brother. To his shock, and relief, he could see his brother only about 15 feet underwater, struggling against his life jacket, but slowly rising upwards. Kyle dove and swam with his might, trying to raise his brother.

Finally, they broke the surface, gasping for air. The combined buoyancy of the life jacket and the boat were just barely enough to overcome the weight of the rock. But as soon as the jacket reached the surface, the rock would rise no higher. If the rock had been but a few pounds heavier, Kyle's brother would have been lost.

A passing vacationer in a motorboat had seen the accident and quickly arrived. He dove in and cut the rope with a knife, freeing Kyle's brother and sending the plastic kayak to the bottom of the lake.

As he shared this story on the stand today, he was quite emotional. "I think about that day all the time," he said. "We were messing with forces beyond our understanding."

All of our choices have consequences. And some of those consequences are eternal in nature. Think about Alma the Younger, who, perhaps sick and tired of his father's unbelievable religion, went about trying to destroy it. He was messing with forces beyond his understanding, and soon found himself facing a crisis he had not imagined possible, and for which he was woefully unprepared.

All of us will someday face the consequences of our choices. Some come now, and some don't come till an unexpected wave or shift in the balance sends us plummeting into danger.

The safety the gospel offers is a tremendous gift. I'm not suggesting that every commandment supplies us with safety against some danger of the world. But I do firmly believe that a real strength pours into our lives when we live the gospel. That strength helps us get through the hard times, and to not only endure trials, but be improved by them as well.

I love this gospel, and the safety for the soul that it offers.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Spiritual Significance of Gender: A husband and wife's conversation

Six years ago, my wife and I were discussing the gospel on Sunday afternoon and the topic of gender came up. We talked about what our thoughts on gender roles are, what strength that can bring to a relationship, and how the roles can be abused. This lead itself to a discussion on some of the most frequent misconceptions about the priesthood we've heard--either inside or outside the LDS church. They boiled down to four categories:
  1. Men need the priesthood to be as righteous as women
  2. A women shouldn't want the priesthood and should be glad to have men handle it for her
  3. Women should have the priesthood in the same way that men do
  4. Childbearing and nurturing are a "woman's priesthood"

Wanting to understand why, if at all, these are in fact misconceptions as we felt, we decided to explore each of these ideas. The following are some of the results of our conversation. And yes, depending on who you are, our Sunday afternoons are either very mentally stimulating or absolutely boring.

Misconception 1: Men need the priesthood to be as righteous as women

Contrary to some modern ideals, the scriptures teach that either sex is incomplete, imperfect, and will fall short of its highest potential without the other. Rather than a competition or battle between the sexes, a pathway of partnership is described:

Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.

For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.

1 Cor. 11:11–12

In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees;

And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage];

And if he does not, he cannot obtain it.

He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase.

D&C 131:1–4
(note that [] is in original text)

For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.

For all who will have a blessing at my hands shall abide the law which was appointed for that blessing, and the conditions thereof, as were instituted from before the foundation of the world.

And as pertaining to the new and everlasting covenant, it was instituted for the fulness of my glory; and he that receiveth a fulness thereof must and shall abide the law, or he shall be damned, saith the Lord God.

D&C 132:4–6

Speaking on the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage, Spencer W. Kimball said:

This is the word of the Lord. It is very, very serious, and there is nobody who should argue with the Lord. He made the earth; he made the people. He knows the conditions. He set the program, and we are not intelligent enough or smart enough to be able to argue him out of these important things. He knows what is right and true.

--Spencer W. Kimball, Marriage and Divorce: An Address [Salt Lake City: Desert Book Co., 1976], 30

The main point here is that either sex will be damned, meaning falling short of their fullest potential, without entering the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage with the other. It's important to point out that a man or woman can still be exalted and return to God's presence without entering into the covenant with the other sex. But that what's being said above is that even within that exaltation there's a limitation (a damning) that prevents receipt of the the fullness of God's glory.

Furthermore, the concept that a certain individual is inherently inferior to another goes against fundamental principles of the gospel. There is no room for misogyny or misandry in God's plan.

For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

For the body is not one member, but many.

1 Cor. 12:13–14
(note the context of Gifts of the Spirit and unity in Christ)

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Gal. 3:28–29
(note allusion to Abrahamic covenant which includes New and Everlasting Covenant)

And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:

Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.

Col. 3:10–11

For none of these iniquities come of the Lord; for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.

2 Ne. 26:33

Misconception 2: A women shouldn't want the priesthood and should be glad to have men handle it for her

While it is true that offices and callings of the church should not be sought after for worldly status, shying away from blessings the Lord wishes to bestow upon us is self-damning. Women are promised 'all' that God has and the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage is what allows women to enjoy the fullness of blessings the priesthood has to offer in this life. Should women seek the priesthood for their own? No. God, for whatever reason, has entrusted priesthood keys in this life to men and through the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage has provided a means whereby women can, should, and must, enjoy the blessings of the priesthood through unity with their spouse.

As for the exact state between the sexes in the life hereafter, we simply don't have the details. But I take God at His word that 'all' that He has will be given to those who are exhaled. I don't think the word 'all' is merely an exaggeration. This life is a period of training/trails/tests and we only see in part. We only have an incomplete picture here in this life. We are here, in mortality, out of God's presence, in this moment in time, in this dispensation, on this planet, etc. So we have only a shadow of God's will, not the whole picture. We have to trust and have faith that the shadow God reveals is for our benefit and will lead us to a more complete picture in His due time--whatever that might be.

Misconception 3: Women should have the priesthood in the same way that men do

This is the old confusion of 'oneness' = 'sameness'. God designates distinct rights, authority, and responsibilities in order to avoid confusion and to require unity between His children in order for them to enjoy the fullness of His blessings (see 1 Cor. 12). The fact that one person has different rights, authority, or responsibilities does not diminish the rights, authority, or responsibilities of another. Rather, it is only through the unity of faith, hope, and charity that all rights, authorities, and responsibilities are enjoyed by all through one another. It is interesting that charity both fulfills the law in that it ensures one always lives according to God's will while at the same time it is also the virtue through which we are able to enjoy and share the blessings of others and ultimately all that God has. Charity fulfills the law on a personal level but is also the means through which all of God's blessings are both received and bestowed. It is of no surprise then that only through perfect charity between couples in the New and Everlasting Covenant of marriage are they able to enjoy perfectly, and with unity, the blessings each of the other has. The alternative is to see the differences in others as a threat. That one's gifts somehow diminish me. To let pride and fear take root in our world-view.

Holy Trinity, fresco by Luca Rossetti da Orta
An example of this at the highest level is the Godhead. Does the fact that Christ (the Son) alone  performed the atonement (see Matthew 27:6) diminish God the Father or the Holy Ghost in any way? No. Why? Because Christ is one with God and every gift, power, blessing, and authority Christ has obtained through performing the atonement is fully enjoyed by both God the Father and the Holy Ghost through Him. It is the perfect unity of purpose exercised by the Godhead that allows each full access to the gifts, powers, blessings, and authorities of the other. Another example of this is the fact that the blessings of the atonement are enjoyed by us through the Holy Ghost. Does this fact diminish Christ in any way? No. Instead, Christ uses His authority and power gained by performing the atonement and blesses mankind through the Holy Ghost. Conversely, does the fact that the Holy Ghost is the only member of the Godhead without a tangible body diminish Him in His role? No. Actually, the fact that the Holy Ghost has no physical body enables him to permeate space all at once and become a conduit through which God the Father and Christ can bless mankind (see D&C 130:22). This is possible because the Holy Ghost is one with God and equally shares all of His gifts, powers, blessings, and authorities with the other members of the Godhead in perfect unity. Similarly, God the Father, rather than hoarding His gifts, powers, blessings, and authorities and using them to assert status, instead seeks to share them with His children either directly or through others. This is what is meant when Christ commanded that we should be one even as He and His Father are one (see John 17:21–24). Note that in Christ's intercessory prayer, that He several times mentions that it is through this unity that those who believe in Him may enjoy the blessings of the gospel.

This same focus on unity as the means of enjoying all of God's blessings is woven into the oath and covenant of the priesthood itself:

For whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods of which I have spoken, and the magnifying their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies.

They become the sons of Moses and of Aaron and the seed of Abraham, and the church and kingdom, and the elect of God.

And also all they who receive this priesthood receive me, saith the Lord;

For he that receiveth my servants receiveth me;

And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father;

And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father's kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him.

And this is according to the oath and covenant which belongeth to the priesthood.

Therefore, all those who receive the priesthood, receive this oath and covenant of my Father, which he cannot break, neither can it be moved.

But whoso breaketh this covenant after he hath received it, and altogether turneth therefrom, shall not have forgiveness of sins in this world nor in the world to come.

D&C 84:33–41

In fact, the idea that in order for there to be oneness or perfect unity everyone must be the same is a satanic idea as it presupposes that such unity between different individuals is impossible when the Godhead and the words of the prophets teach otherwise. It also rejects the individuality God has bestowed upon us through agency and has so carefully guarded at great cost. This could have been part of what the war in Heaven was fought over. Christ and His followers fought to maintain individuality and agency with unity coming through the Atonement, priesthood, and chrarity and Satan and his followers fought to remove individuality and agency seeing unity as incompatible with them because of fear, hate, and pride. Knowing this, it brings into perspective why we must share our gifts, talents, and blessings with others in perfect unity of faith and how if we fail to do so, we will never be able to establish the Kingdom of God on Earth.

Misconception 4: Childbearing and nurturing is the "women's priesthood"

Childbearing is a unique gift that women enjoy on a higher level then men. And just like the the priesthood is designed by God to bless all mankind (men and women), the miracle of creating human life is designed to bring man and woman together in greater unit. Calling this 'priesthood' dilutes the meaning of both priesthood and childbirth and is just as misleading as saying the priesthood is "childbearing for men". Again, this is the fallacy of mandatory sameness. Just as women must be blessed with the priesthood in order to be exalted (which they cannot do alone), men must be blessed with partnership increasing posterity (which they also cannot do alone). God has carefully structured His plan such that unity and charity with the other sex brings the fullness of His gifts.

Sheri L. Dew, in her wonderful October 2001 General Conference talk "It Is Not Good for Man or Woman to Be Alone", explained it this way:

Satan understands the power of men and women united in righteousness. He is still stinging from his banishment into eternal exile after Michael led the hosts of heaven, comprised of valiant men and women united in the cause of Christ, against him. In the chilling words of Peter, “The devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” Lucifer is determined to devour marriages and families, because their demise threatens the salvation of all involved and the vitality of the Lord’s kingdom itself. Thus, Satan seeks to confuse us about our stewardships and distinctive natures as men and women. He bombards us with bizarre messages about gender, marriage, family, and all male-female relationships. He would have us believe men and women are so alike that our unique gifts are not necessary, or so different we can never hope to understand each other. Neither is true.

We must either learn to live together in unity or all fail together in pride. The New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage truly is an essential and equally beneficial exalting covenant!

In a recent speech, Sheri L. Dew directly addressed the issue of women not having the priesthood in the LDS church:

From a BYU Women's Conference talk titled "Becoming Bone of Bone and Flesh of Flesh", Eugene England states that our current earthly assignments are mortal schoolmasters and as we progress towards perfect love and charity we will transcend these distinctions:

I believe that the Melchizedek Priesthood and bearing the bodies of mortal children are simply assignments made for mortality. This does not mean the two are equivalent: certainly priesthood should not replace the nurturing duties of fatherhood nor does bearing children replace the spiritual gifts, including healing, nor the administrative gifts and duties given to women. But I believe priesthood and child-bearing are alike in providing, if we let them, similar opportunities to learn charity, to love and serve unconditionally. If we learn those lessons, we will pass beyond Melchizedek Priesthood and physical motherhood to a higher state of more perfect equality. That higher state, promised in the eternal marriage covenant, is called becoming kings and queens, priests and priestesses unto the most high God. Fatherhood and motherhood are equivalent right now in their intrinsic responsibilities. (President Lee said to both men and women that the most important work we will ever do is within the walls of our own home "and President McKay said to us both that no success could compensate for failure there.) The roles of man and woman are absolutely equivalent in their intrinsic joys and opportunities to learn the greatest joy--and the ground of our salvation--which is that pure love of Christ.

The Family: A Proclamation to the World

In September 23, 1995 "The Family - A Proclamation to the World" was read by Gordon B. Hinckley in the General Relief Society Meeting. It expounds on the LDS doctrinal view of the roles of men and women in God's plan. In it, it states:
All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.
This and the doctrines described above can, at times, be at odds with world-views that people have. But just as Mormons hope that their beliefs are respected, so too should they seek to love and respect others even (and especially) with different world-views. Rather than attempt to use this proclamation as a way to argue or exclude, which undercuts the thread of charity woven through these doctrines, I feel the challenge is for Mormons to find the compassionate interpretations. To understand and uphold the doctrine, to find the compassionate application that will lead to better unity and charity, and to see the "divine nature and destiny" in all of God's children.

We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul-We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.

Article of Faith 13

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Lessons on leaders, wildfires, trust, and jumping into the burn.

A couple of stories were brought to my attention yesterday, which highlight important lessons on inspired leaders, crisis, and trust.

The Mann Gulch Fire

In August 1949, lightning struck a slope above the Missouri river in the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness in a place called Mann Gulch. It started a fire that would go down in history.

Trusting your church leaders
SmokeJumpers 1948
Soon after the fire started, a team of 15 smokejumpers - a profession then only 9 years old - parachuted into the Wilderness and joined with another young firefighter already on the ground to begin working on containing the blaze.

From the beginning, the circumstances seemed particularly challenging.

Trouble starts

The team and their equipment were scattered widely due to the conditions of the air currents and layout of the land. The radio was destroyed. The single firefighter already on the scene, a 20 year old named James Harrison, had been fighting the fire alone for 4 hours, and was getting tired.

With the fire on the south side of the Gulch, the foreman, 33 year old R. Wagner Dodge, instructed the team to walk along the north side of the gulch to get in a better position to steer the fire into less flammable areas.

The firefighters, all between the ages of 17 and 28, got spread out. Dodge was bringing up the rear with Harrison when he saw the smoke at the front of the fire begin to boil up - a sure sign that the wind had changed and the fire was intensifying.  He hurried to try and catch his men.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Testimony and Gratitude

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wanted to share a story from my life about gratitude and how it changed my life during one of the times of my life when I was at my least thankful.

We have all experienced times when our testimonies felt weak or inadequate. Usually we find ourselves saying “How can I get to where I was? How can I find my faith again?” I propose to illustrate how the principle of gratitude can help us build our testimonies. To do this I will mostly rely on a single story from my mission.

There are three steps I want to point out to building your testimony with gratitude, which you will see in this story.

1. Choosing to believe blessings come from God,

2. Choosing to give credit to God,

3. Choosing to act on the blessings God presents you with.

Choosing to believe blessings come from God.

There was a moment, about 5 months into my mission, where everything changed. It was the moment when I went from being an unwilling, unhappy missionary to a happy, and successful missionary.

This is the story of when it “clicked” for me. It is probably the key point in my mission, if not my life, and you’ll notice that it all hinges on gratitude.

When I first arrived on the island of Taiwan, my mission president asked me “what sort of companion do you want to have?”

Knowing how incredibly lazy I am, and wanting to be the best missionary I could be, I answered immediately with “one who works hard.”

President listened.

Man, did he listen.

I was blessed with a hard working trainer. But the phrase “hard working” doesn’t quite encompass the intensity of this great missionary. He was driven. He was a maniac. I’ll try to explain just how much this guy loved working.

Most evenings we would spend our time knocking on every door we could find. Companion knew that it took about X minutes to get home on bike, so when we reached X minutes until curfew, he’d knock two or three more doors, till the time was X minus 1 minute. We would then have to jump on our bikes and pedal our brains out to try and make it home before our 9:30 curfew.

I hadn’t ridden a bike in years, so usually he would get ahead of me and I would get frustrated that he wouldn’t wait up.

He’d say “Can’t wait! We’ll be late! Push harder!”

I’d say “I can’t!”

He’d say “Where’s your faith, elder?!”

Then I’d pedal harder so I could try and punch him in the face...

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Power of Covenants

I love studying the gospel as much as I do the world/universe around us. As I've studied and encountered different world views that are sometimes pitted against each other, I've seen people lose faith in God when they feel they've discovered irreconcilable differences.
I'm not going to go into the philosophical reasons why that doesn't have to be the case (though those are interesting as well). Instead, I'm going to just point out and testify that when we suppose to have found a ideological discord we must remember to back up for a minute and focus on covenants.
Covenants Make Us Free to have Faith

I think we can take a cue from Nephi in how he treated the covenants he made with God:

5 And also my soul delighteth in the covenants of the Lord which he hath made to our fathers; yea, my soul delighteth in his grace, and in his justice, and power, and mercy in the great and eternal plan of deliverance from death.2 Nephi 11:5

I love that phrase, "delighting in covenants". Notice the train of thought here. Nephi is saying that by appreciating and celebrating his covenants that he is able to gain faith in grace, justice, power, mercy, and the atonement. Nephi sees his covenants as a source of his faith in those things. And I think that is a powerful reminder that we should seek to better understand our covenants and the faith that they enable. 

Covenants Make Us Free from Dogmatism

Far too often, we allow ourselves to get bogged down in secular or religious dogma. The problem with a dogmatic approach to religion is that it dehumanizes it and turns it instead into merely a set of intellectual or philosophical ascents. Now, philosophy and intellect are important, but not at the expense of this faith in Christ born out of making and keeping covenants with Him. The power of religion, especially Christian religions, is that we can have a human relationship here and now with God.

54 Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.

John 6:54
Notice what is said here. Those who "hear my word", "believe in him that sent me", "eat of my flesh", and "drink my blood", those people have eternal life right here and now. Faith in Jesus Christ is active; not some yet-to-be unrealized wishful or intellectual thinking. Christ promises us an eternal relationship here and now. And He does so through covenants.

So when this, that, or some other dogma or philosophy comes up, I try to understand it from the context of my covenants.  
  • Have I covenanted to believe a particular thing about the age of the earth or the detailed biology of life? Nope. 
  • Have I covenanted to have a myopic view of native American history? Nope.
  • Have I covenanted to have particular political viewpoints? Nope.
  • Have I covenanted to literally interpret all of scripture? Nope.
  • Etc. etc. etc.

The problem with this perspective, again, is that it tries to anesthetize covenants by making them merely beliefs or ideologies. Covenants aren't a promise to think something. Covenants are promises to act. 

  • Have I covenanted to not partake in alcohol/tobacco? Yes.
  • Have I covenanted to avoid any/all pre/extra-marital sex? Yes.
  • Have I covenanted to regularly attend church? Yes.
  • Have I covenanted to serve others? Yes.
  • Have I covenanted to continually repent? Yes.
  • Have I covenanted to love and forgive others? Yes.
  • Have I covenanted to pay an honest tithe? Yes.
  • Etc. etc. etc.

When we see our faith merely as abstract ideologies we empty the life from our testimony and faith. Christ taught in His mortal ministry that knowledge and testimony of His gospel is to be found in action, not dogma:

17 If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.

John 7:17

Covenants Free Us to Meet God

King Benjamin put it best when he praised the covenant his people made with God:

7 And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.

8 And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives.

9 And it shall come to pass that whosoever doeth this shall be found at the right hand of God, for he shall know the name by which he is called; for he shall be called by the name of Christ.
Mosiah 5:7-9

So, as I go about my studies in various topics and encounter people with different world-views, I don't let supposed ideological discords overrun the power of my covenants. And while "the glory of God is intelligence" (D&C 93:36), we cannot forget that the source of testimony is not merely dogma, but instead faith and a covenant life.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Holy Ghost and Ohm's Law

In 1899 James E. Talmage, a renowned chemist in England and America and apostle in the LDS church, wrote a book titled 'The Articles of Faith' analyzing the doctrines laid out by Joseph Smith in a letter he wrote titled by the same name. Despite its age, it remains today one of the seminal works discussing Mormon Theology. From the section titled "The Holy Ghost", Talmage writes:

James E. Talmage (1862-1933)
Subtler, mightier, and more mysterious than any or all of the physical forces of nature are the powers that operate upon conscious organisms, the means by which the mind, the heart, the soul of man may be energized by spiritual forces. In our ignorance of the true nature of electricity we may speak of it as a fluid; and so by analogy the forces through which the mind is governed have been called spiritual fluids. The true nature of these manifestations of energy is unknown to us, for the elements of comparison and analogy, so necessary to our human reasoning, are wanting; nevertheless the effects are experienced by all. As the conducting medium in an electric circuit is capable of conveying but a limited current, the maximum capacity depending upon the resistance offered by the conductor, and, as separate circuits of different degrees of conductivity may carry currents of widely varying intensity, so human souls are of varied capacity with respect to the higher powers. But as the medium is purified, as obstructions are removed, so resistance to the energy decreases, and the forces manifest themselves with greater intensity. By analogous processes of purification our spirits may be made more susceptible to the forces of life, which are emanations from the Holy Spirit. Therefore are we taught to pray by word and action for a constantly increasing portion of the Spirit, that is, the power of the Spirit, which is a measure of this gift of God unto us.

Talmage is drawing an analogy from Ohm's law which was widely accepted by the scientific community some 50 years before Talmage had this insight. Having studied the physics covering electromagnetism myself, this idea brought back many memories of working through simple circuit diagrams with voltage, intensity, and resistance. The relationship between these three values is expressed in Ohm's law:

Here, the intensity of current in a circuit (measured in amps) is equal to the voltage (electrical potential) of a power source divided by the resistance of the medium through which that current flows. The greater the voltage the greater the current. However, the greater the resistance the less current. By analyzing this equation and see what insights it gives drawing from Elder Talmage's analogy above, much can be learned.

In the Book of Mormon Alma chapter 30 gives an account of a trail between the high priest, Alma, and Korihor who had been accused of blaspheme. After Korihor insists that a sign must be given before anyone should exercise faith, Alma responds:

Behold, I am grieved because of the hardness of your heart, yea, that ye will still resist the spirit of the truth, that thy soul may be destroyed.

Alma 30:46

Sometime later, Alma - in preaching to the poor and rejected class of the Zoramites - makes a wonderful analogy between the word of God and a seed. Here, he also uses the word 'resist' when speaking of wickedness and hardheartedness (possibly referring to his previous encounter with Korihor):

Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.

Alma 30:28

In modern times, Christ - speaking to Lyman Sherman through Joseph Smith - in December 26, 1835 -  spoke similarly:

... resist no more my voice.

D&C 108:2

In basic circuits, to which this analogy relates to, the voltage is constant. That constant voltage relates to God and his power which is described as "... the same yesterday today and forever..." (1 Ne. 10:18). God's power is always there, available to anyone, and it's potential is unchanging.

Given the voltage is constant, the resistance becomes the determining factor for the intensity in the circuit. Likewise, as God's power is constant, unchanging, and is always extended towards each one of His children, our will compared to His becomes the determining factor of the efficacy of that power flowing through our lives. Again from the above Talmage quote:

.... as the medium is purified, as obstructions are removed, so resistance to the energy decreases, and the forces manifest themselves with greater intensity.

So, what is the resistance that is required to allow God's power to more fully flow through us? It, surprisingly, is not zero given the equations above. If a resistance of zero, or analogously an empty will, is introduced to the equation impossible or undefined results are found. Such is life without free will or with an empty will (see 2 Ne. 2:11-13). Could this begin to describe the situation where Satan sought to deny the power of God and place Himself above it by destroying the agency of man (see Moses 4:3)?

So, if having zero resistance introduces problems in the equation and the analogy then what should "R" ideally be? To answer the question it helps to rearrainge Ohms law.

What would "R" have to equal in order for "V" and "I" to equal each other?" The resistance would have to be 1. While trying to avoid taking the analogy too far, the notion of "one" has great implications in the gospel and appears throughout it. The term "one" appears frequently in scriptures to indicate harmony, alignment, equality, and unity. The Lord has said:

... I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.

D&C 38:27

It is especially prominent in the Lord's Intercessory Prayer:

20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;

21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:

23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.

Knowing and understand this, it becomes quite clear that the only way the power of God will flow through us is if we choose to become one--harmonizing and aligning our desires and actions with the will of God. Only when this oneness is achieved will the power of God flow through us unobstructed. Nephi (the second) achieved, to some degree, this oneness. Nephi, pondering upon the wickedness of the people at the time, heard the voice of the Lord saying:

4 Blessed art thou, Nephi, for ... thou hast ... sought my will, and to keep my commandments.

5 And now, because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will.

Helaman 10:4-5

Through God's blessing, Nephi's righteousness and unity lead to receiving great power from heaven. And we too can be given power as we align our will with the will of God. The means through which this power is given is through the Holy Ghost, but it is activated through the gift of the atonement. It is of no coincidence that the word "atonement", influenced by the Latin word adunamentum meaning 'unity', came from an older verb "onement" meaning "to unite" or "make one".

This is how we harness and utilize the gift of the Holy Ghost. As a gift and blessing, it is predicated upon obedience (D&C 130:20-21; D&C 132:5). And it is only when our will becomes one with the will of God, through the atonement of Christ, that we may be blessed with His eternal power.